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  • Long Distance, and: L'infinito, and: The Infinite, and: Tiszta szívvel, and: With a Pure Heart
  • Steve Kronen (bio), Giacomo Leopardi (bio), and Attila József (bio)
    Translated by Steve Kronen

Long Distance

To read a translated poem is to get one eyewitness account of an event (often unreliable, the judicial system reminds us). But with five witnesses, ten witnesses, the essential veracity of the original may assert itself.

In those horse latitudes between writing my own poems, I sometimes "translate" the already translated poems of others and produce what I hope are similar to Lowell's Imitations, or what Hugh Kenner in his introduction to The Translations of Ezra Pound calls "homage[s]," Pound's translations garnered from other translations, cribs, and commentaries. Thus are the two poems here.

Typically, with the original text before me and five, six, seven, or ten translations, I try to suss out the ur-poem, possibly making something fresh for myself and, perhaps, for others. For example, after listening to the music of Giacomo Leopardi's original version of "The Infinite," then reading numerous translations, I sought a more immediate demotic and introduced the sound of the wind, a "shoosh," hoping to see the image, line, and, consequently, the poem anew while still capturing the poet's voice and intent. Perhaps a fool's errand.

                             . . . Now the winds blow and rush

across the leaves, and in that long sustaining shoosh

I hear that longer silence . . .

If all goes well with my version, the reader may be inclined to turn back to the original poem or to one of its other more immediate translations.

Leopardi's original Italian, while unrhymed (other than the serendipitous vowel-ending of the Italian) keeps a fairly strict syllablic count. To give my version some greater cohering shape and to replicate some sort of corresponding music, I've rhymed throughout.

Attila József's "With a Pure Heart" derives much of its force from its harsh, no-nonsense desperation counterpointed against its quick, nursery rhyme playfulness (I've rendered the original aabb rhymes abab), making starker József 's defiance, [End Page 124] his courageous innocence, and his resignation to unforgiving circumstances. My version was greatly enhanced by the kind feedback of music professor and native of Hungary, Lajos Zeke.

The two poems here and other "homages" are included in my new manuscript, Cain on the Moon. [End Page 125]


Sempre caro mi fu quest'ermo collee questa siepe, che da tanta partedell'ultimo orizzonte il guardo esclude.Ma sedendo e mirando, interminatispazi di là da quella, e sovrumanisilenzi, e profondissima quïete,io nel pensier mi fingo, ove per pocoil cor non si spaura. E come il ventoodo stormir tra queste piante, io quelloinfinito silenzio a questa vocevo comparando: e mi sovvien l'eterno,e le morte stagioni, e la presentee viva, e il suon di lei. Così tra questaimmensità s'annega il pensier mio:e il naufragar m'è dolce in questo mare. [End Page 126]

The Infinite

I've loved always this one lone hilland here, before it, this windswept copsethat blocks from my sight the far horizon. But lostin thought, sitting here, I can see beyond ourhills and trees, and I feel some further calm,some extrahuman quiet rise and nearly overwhelmmy awful heart. Now the winds blow and rushacross the leaves, and in that long sustaining shooshI hear that longer silence—and all time stops—eons living and dead, present and past,and the hundred thousand sounds that wellfrom that vast ocean—and I go sweetly under. [End Page 127]

Tiszta szívvel

Nincsen apám, se anyám,se istenem, se hazám,se bölcsőm, se szemfedőm,se csókom, se szeretőm.

Harmadnapja nem eszek,se sokat, se keveset.Húsz esztendőm hatalom,húsz esztendőm eladom.

Hogyha nem kell senkinek,hát az ördög veszi meg.Tiszta szívvel betörök,ha kell, embert is ölök.

Elfognak és felkötnek,áldott földdel elfödneks halált hozó fű teremgy...


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pp. 124-129
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